It’s October 2019 and I’m in a phase of life where so much is happening.
Communicating with family and friends across two completely different time zones, it’s almost impossible to keep up with everything and I find myself in a slump.
Not necessarily a sad one, just a place where I feel rather helpless and distant.
That’s ok, I remind myself constantly, we all have little bumps in the road.
One afternoon, I phone my sister.
‘I’m coming home’.
‘No. Not for good. No, not for Christmas. Yes, just for a bit. Don’t tell anyone, it’s a secret’. Initially it’s planned as a surprise, but in a moment of clarity I change my mind.
Within a week, no less, I’m phoning almost everyone in my phone book. All is shared, flight times and details of what will happen in the short month I will spend at home in Australia.
It’s a long held dream of mine to walk into a surprise party in my honour but sadly, with my attitude to surprises pertaining to me, it’s never happened.
SURPRISE. They’ll all shout. Then I’ll cry and someone will fall madly in love with me on the same night.
My friend (her name is Charlotte) is well versed in this dream, and we quite often find ourselves wailing with laughter at my more than idiotic delusions about what dreams are made of.
I land in Melbourne one morning late in November, where a taxi whisks me out of the airport and straight to Mum and Dads cozy little Melbourne pied a terre. On arrival I’m given a welcome only a mother can give. Fully, widespread arms tightly squeeze my less than emaciated body, I’m huge actually, and my heart is bursting at the sight of her.
There is nothing like the smell of ones mother, and there is also nothing like the love that a mother has for her child. Even when the child is 40 with a penchant for big ballad singers, and who lives in a land far away with no actual relevance to anything currently going on in her mothers life; bar the fact that it makes the daughter incredibly happy.
Following a steaming hot shower and an almost Olympic worthy gymnastic routine of removing my heart attack socks (I refuse to fly without them and I marvel at my ‘skinny’ ankles as I tear them off), we go immediately for breakfast together where I devour fresh avocado on toast with smatterings of feta and olive oil. (Did I mention that Kenya is the seventh largest producer of avocados in the world, see my last blog – I do my research in moments of sheer procrastination).
‘Mum, it’s so good to be home, truly it is,’ I tell her between mouthfuls.
‘God, I’ve missed you,’ we say in unison, smiling.
The waitress asks if we’d like another coffee.
‘Yes, please’ we respond, again, in unison.
If you read my last blog titled ‘England Cake,’ you’d have seen a reference to mistakes that can easily be made with language. Remember the waiter having to leave the room laughing with his legs crossed?
I order a second cafe latte, Mum does too, and I laugh as I recall asking a waiter in Tangier for a coffee with milk, full of confidence and thrilled at my new found confidence in darija.
‘Ahff-eck wah-had kahwah -wah (h)alib’ (for any darija speakers, please excuse my phonetics).
‘I would like coffee with milk,’ I thought I was saying.
What I was actually saying (for a good few months when I first arrived in Tangier) was, ‘may I have a man’s main reproductive organ with milk?’.
Kah-wah pronounced almost snorted through the nose and out again is ‘coffee’ whereas KAH-L-WAH, with a short (but still there) L is understood as ‘mans front bottom’.
In the moment it’s a huge relief to be with Mum in Australia, ordering coffee with milk in my mother tongue.
We pull out our diaries and madly plan the weeks ahead. I’m home for almost three, which swiftly becomes four.
The second coffee arrives just as we’re finalising diaries. ‘So, we’ll be here, here, here, here, here and here and here and here and here and then here, and there, and then here,’ we agree, nodding furiously — a bit like Mr Bean in one of his finer moments.
Happy with synchronised dates, we part ways. Mum has a full day of things to do and I am determined to stay awake until well after nightfall. My head is almost on the table as the jet lag kicks in and I stand to brave the street outside, walking straight into the husband of one of my oldest friends.
They both came to Tangier for my fortieth birthday last summer on a visit I’ll never forget.
Stu arrives moments later, Stu was also in Tangier last summer for my 40th birthday lunch. He drives me to an old favourite watering hole where we sip on a negroni and discuss all that’s either happened or we wish to happen. We do that — he too is privy to things such a my dreams of love, handsome princes and surprise parties. He understands me in a way that only life long friends can.
That night Mum (who understands me better than anyone) and I have dinner together. I’m exhausted after twenty four hours in the sky and can barely keep my eyes open as we crunch through my favourite salad and sip on delicious wine.
Jet lag aside, we chat for hours before I land my head on a fresh, feather down pillow and fall into a deep, uninterrupted sleep.
During the days and weeks that follow I reunite with my beloved Dad and sisters; along with their husbands and my beautiful, much loved nephews of which there are now five.
Cries of ‘hello Aunty Pinny,’ make my heart swell when their little arms wrap themselves around my legs at the breakfast table, or as I arrive at each destination.
Dad gives me the keys to his car and I travel the length of country Victoria – I’m in the Grampians one day and beside the sea the next. We are all so proud when Dad launches his latest book, regardless of an aneurysm almost launching him into another place just twelve months earlier.
Fire has been ravaging towns and farms across much of Australia in the months leading into my trip, and its hard to believe they are still going when I arrive — there is no evidence across the Melbourne skyline, but the evening news reports devastation across acres and acres of land. It’s heartbreaking to see, but we are unaware that the worst is yet to come.
Landing in Tasmania, half way through my trip and with Mum and Dad at my side, I meet my newest nephew Archie who was born almost a year following my last visit. He is all dribble and smiles as I squeeze him half to death, only letting him go in the moment when he needs to be strapped into his car seat in order for us to leave the airport.
I’m amazed at these children. Maybe I’m biased because they are ‘mine’ but they treat me like and old friend. They are utterly breathtaking in their approach to this stranger who looks like and sounds like their mother, but isn’t their mother. I’m chuffed at the welcome I receive with each visit.
My journey back to Australia was incredibly special and one where memories were made as I reunited with as many friends as possible – but sadly, there is never enough time for everyone. I draw the line somewhere along the way, booking a ticket back to Morocco which will see me arrive in time for a North African Christmas. A pre Christmas trip to Australia is much easier, with everyone still around finishing up the year as the school holidays make a swift approach.
My nephews and godchildren are all growing at the rate of knots, but their parents – my friends, and all of my friends, along with my sisters and my parents, never change. Thats the beauty of it all, we can all just slot back in as if time has never passed.
And, we did just that.
I land in Tangier on Friday at the end of the week leading into Christmas. Rain falls in a sideways fashion as I step off the plane and bump into two friends who have just flown in from London.
‘The fires, Pin, they’re horrific’ they say, worried for those I’ve just left behind. I look at the news as I wait in the passport control queue. Overnight, they have worsened (and only worsen in the weeks that follow).
It’s heartbreaking to watch, and it seems there is not one person in Australia who hasn’t either been touched directly by the devastation, or has a friend or family member who is.
The most heartening thing is the way in which our nation bands together to help, whether it be literally on the ground or in other ways. I loath reading online vitriol, but find comfort in the words written by sane, pragmatic thinkers.
I appreciate pragmatism.
Life in Tangier quickly returns to normal as my jet lag subsides and Christmas and New Year come and go during a fun and heady couple of weeks. I am spoilt with brilliant hospitality and am sad that I cant repay it as quickly as I’d like to. The loo is still missing from the bathroom during one of the busiest and most social times of the year. I am thrilled when it’s finally fixed one day in mid February.
As I finish typing this with ‘Epiphany’ by the Piano Boys as my soundtrack, Twinkle walks in the door. He’s been shopping and I delight in a bottle of bright blue cleaning product – he knows that I love anything with promise of an ocean fresh scent. I know I shouldn’t, but I do.
‘It smells like a bitch’ he tells me, pointing to the waves crashing across the label, weaving their way around Arabic letters which I can only assume spell out ‘Ocean Dreams’ or something similar.
He will be forty next week, and the talk of how the celebrations will play out has been non stop for weeks.
He too has a long held dream of a surprise party held in his honour. His cheeks flush pink and his eyes sparkle as he comes clean with me about this dream whilst humming to the music as he tips blue poison, fresh as an ocean, into a bucket full of piping hot water.
I will finish on that note as I’ve just seen a headline which states that senior health officials in Britain are advising people to wash their hands whilst singing ‘God Save the Queen,’ as a means of not contracting Coronavirus.
I madly re-read this piece and I can’t help wondering if it works? I assume it’s probably fake news and go off to prepare for dinner with one of my dearest Tangier friends, who celebrates his birthday today.
It’s not a surprise.